Comedian Steve Martin has taken on the role of guest curator for a show of little known artist Lawren Harris’ work at the MFA (Museum of Fine Art) in Boston. His passion for the Canadian landscape artist fueled a cross-country trip to gather the works for the show that he hopes will help spread Lawren Harris’ fame in the U.S.
According to an interview with Reuters, Steve Martin first refused the request for help, reconsidering only because of his love for Lawren Harris’ work and his wish to see him better recognized throughout North America. He commented in an interview with 90.9WBUR, a Boston NPR affiliate.
“I’m not really a curator, but I happen to know and love this artist Lawren Harris.”
It’s been a busy few weeks leading up to the Boston opening for comedian and actor Steve Martin, who performed his first stand up show in 35 years on February 18, as reported by Inquisitr. Best known for his stand-up comedy and many comedic movie roles, including The Jerk (1979,) Parenthood(1989,) and Father of the Bride (1991,) Steve Martin first came to public view as a stand up comedian for his many appearances on Saturday Night Live. He has written scripts for both stage and screen, including Bright Star, an acclaimed musical that’s currently playing on Broadway. Steve Martin is also an accomplished banjo player, having won several Grammys in the Americana and bluegrass genres. It is not the first time Steve Martin has stepped out of his more familiar roles, but he is humble about curating the Boston show.
“You know, there’s a certain claim of dilettantism when you go into an area that you’re a newbie at, but I did feel a real affinity with the artist and felt like my name might do some good. Here’s an artist who painted in the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s, on through to the ’70s, but is unknown in America.”
Well known as a serious art collector, Steve Martin was invited to help put together the exhibition, the first to showcase the work of Lawren Harris in the United States. While the artist is famous in his native Canada and among modernist art aficionados, Lawren Harris is little known in the U.S., despite having lived and worked there in the 1920s and 1930s.
The show, called “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris,” is a collaboration between the Hammer Museum in L.A. and the Art Gallery of Ontario and has just opened at the MFA in Boston as part of a cross country tour. The show also includes work from similarly modernist American painters, including Georgia O’Keefe, and will be on display until June 12 in Boston.
The work of Lawren Harris is considered part of the classic modernist school that was popular in the first half of the twentieth century. His paintings turn snowy mountains into into a stark work of dramatic color and shapes that Steve Martin calls “awesome.” According to Steve Martin, he came to discover Lawren Harris’ work during time spent in Canada both working and visiting.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Canada through work. And I’ve been going up there since I was 22.”
Matthew Teitelbaum, current director of the MFA in Boston, was formerly director at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where he first heard of the idea for the show and Steve Martin’s involvement. The work of Lawren Harris is scattered over several museums across Canada, and Teitelbaum helped Steve Martin make the various connections to put the exhibition together. Steve Martin went one step further, insisting on viewing each painting in the show personally before adding it to the catalog. That stipulation resulted in a hectic cross-Canada tour for the comedian as he collected the 30 Lawren Harris paintings represented in the Boston art exhibition. The iconic landscapes were completed between 1922 and 1935. Along with curating the Lawren Harris exhibit, Steve Martin wrote some of the text in the accompanying catalog with his typical sense of humor.
“In the early 1920s, since the mountains had yet to come to anybody, Lawren Harris went to the mountains.”
Steve Martin led members of the media through a preview of the Lawren Harris show on Friday and gave a well attended free public talk about the artist and his work on Saturday’s opening night. While Steve Martin has certainly displayed versatility throughout his career, he told Reuters that curating the Lawren Harris show was not an experience he would be repeating.
[Photo by Charles Krupa/AP Images]